The rackets of the Northwestern men’s tennis team must be on their last legs. Between bunches of fiery returns and a storm of slamming serves, the strings that line the purple grips are certainly on the verge of collapse.
The work of the rackets have not gone unnoticed, having catapulted the ‘Cats to a thrilling 3-0 start. The team opened their season with a three-game slate against Notre Dame, No. 19 NC State and Chicago State University. Unranked heading into their inaugural match — though they did receive votes in the ITA’s top 25 rankings — NU made a statement in their first weekend of play.
The Wildcats entered the season with an immediate shot at glory, as their three best players from last season, Steve Forman, Simen Bratholm and Trice Pickens, opted to use their final year of eligibility as graduate students.
Through three games, Northwestern has been led by the older guys. In singles, Forman has slotted in at the first position, just as he did last year when he won All-Big Ten honors. Bratholm and Ivan Yatsuk have led the way in doubles so far.
In the opening match of the season, NU beat Notre Dame in the doubles category, as the two of the team’s three pairs managed a victory. In singles play, the squad wiped the Fighting Irish, sweeping them en route to a 4-0 takedown.
All eyes were on NC State opening weekend, considering the Wolfpack entered Combe Tennis Center as the 19th best team in the nation. The ‘Pack won the first doubles match, 6-2, but Pickens and Natan Spear handled Rafa Izquierdo Luque and Joe Wayan, the No. 21 ranked pair in the country. The individual matches saw the most drama of the day, as NC State and Northwestern traded shots. It wasn’t until Pickens, currently ranked as the 110th best single’s player in college, sealed the win for the Wildcats in the back half of the competition with a shot that evoked a flex from the Big Ten Second Team standout.
Northwestern wrapped up the matchup with ease against Chicago State, who, like Notre Dame, fell victim to a Wildcat Sweep™, 4-0. In their final match of the day, head coach Arvid Swan gave Forman and Bratholm a rest, bumping Yatsuk and Pickens into the top of the rotation.
In all, Northwestern walks away from its first set of bouts feeling confident in their ability to hang with the best of them. Years of underwhelming finishes at the NCAA tourney have surrounded the program in pessimism, but an opening set of three matches couldn’t have gone much more to plan. Sweeps against the unranked opponents and a resilient comeback win against an elite NC State roster deserves high praise.
Looking ahead, the ‘Cats will travel to Louisville to take on the Cardinals, who haven’t opened up their spring season yet. The next ranked matchup for Northwestern could come as soon as Jan. 29, when the team will either take on Cal Poly or No. 5 Michigan.